Pfizer Spends Big on IP Lobbying With Billions on the Line

The pharmaceutical giant spent big bucks amid key international negotiations last year to protect record earnings.

Pfizer Spends Big on IP Lobbying With Billions on the Line

This piece by journalist Walker Bragman was written in partnership with the Important Context newsletter.

Last year, as it was raking in cash from its COVID vaccine and newly authorized oral treatment Paxlovid, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer spent big bucks to safeguard its intellectual property (IP), federal lobbying disclosures reveal. The nearly $900,000 lobbying tab came amid a global fight over how best to ensure fair access to COVID tools like vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics.

Uneven distribution of such tools has been an ongoing problem throughout the pandemic, which has killed more than six million people worldwide by official numbers. Estimates of its true death toll, however, range into the tens of millions. Wealthier nations have hoarded critical supplies while lower-income countries in the Global South have struggled with procurement. 

One solution that has gained traction at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) is an intellectual property waiver for COVID tools. The idea has faced stiff opposition from the pharmaceutical industry. Pfizer in particular has long been lobbying to stave off any such waiver. 

The company’s spending on the issue through last year, including $140,000 in the fourth quarter alone, shows how significant and persistent a threat those global discussions are to its bottom line and provides insight into how the pharmaceutical giant has prioritized profits over global equity and human lives.